Locating quality research about parent engagement

Type “parent engagement” in an internet search engine and you’ll receive more than 3.6 million results. The amount of information on the topic is overwhelming and you might find some recommendations that are not based on best practices. How do you know which practices are based on quality research and which might be outmoded?

One of the leading research-focused organization in parent engagement is the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP). Founded in 1983 by Dr. Heather Weiss, HFRP focuses their research on five areas: complementary learning, family involvement, out-of-school time, early childhood education, and evaluation. According to their website, “HFRP has served as a national platform for forward-thinking perspectives on family and community engagement research, practices, policies, and strategies. Our work in family engagement focuses on developing frameworks and tools to promote involvement from early childhood through young adulthood—anywhere, anytime children learn—in the home, in school, and in community settings. Our community engagement efforts concentrate on building the quality, accessibility, and sustainability of learning environments outside of school, including early childhood and afterschool programs. Areas of expertise include research and documentation, evaluation, professional development, and technical assistance.”

HFRP has a number of resources that accessible free of charge:

New Directions in Family Engagement blog: Here you can read about the latest research, policy and practice trends in parent engagement. You can read posts on the blog, on Twitter (@HFRPinteract) or on Facebook at Harvard Family Research Project.

Interactive case studies: These case studies describe a family-engagement situation, perspectives of five people involved in it, and data related to the case. You could work through these case studies independently or with a group to help develop family-engagement competencies.

FINE Member Insights: The Family Involvement Network of Educators is a community “dedicated to strengthening family-school-community partnerships,” and a number of members have written essays related to specific family-engagement issues and research, such as linking family engagement practices to learning and family involvement in high schools.

Another leading source of research-based information is the National Network of Partnerships Schools (NNPS) at Johns Hopkins University.  According to their website, “NNPS invites schools, districts, states, and organizations to join together and use research-based approaches to organize and sustain excellent programs of family and community involvement that will increase student success in school.”

Established in 1996 by Dr. Joyce Epstein, NNPS provides training and support for members who implement a specific model for parental involvement based on Epstein’s Framework of Six Types of Involvement. On the NNPS website, you can learn more about the models for schools, districts, organizations, and states. Although their site provides fewer free resources than HFRP, educators can view Promising Partnership Practices, the NNPS annual collection of best practices or Type 2, their semi-annual newsletter at no charge. A number of parent-involvement books, surveys, and products are available for purchase on their website.

Family-engagement practices that are backed by research is the foundation on which the FAST® (Families & Schools Together) Program was built. When Dr. Lynn McDonald launched FAST more than 25 years ago, it was one of the first prevention/early intervention programs to develop practical applications for mental health and family theory research findings. Dr. McDonald continually integrates new findings into the structure – making it a living, dynamic program that produces statistically significant improvements in children’s academic performance, behavior and emotional well-being. The effectiveness of FAST has been measured through research studies and papersrandomized control trials, and inclusion on highly selective evidence-based lists.

How will you integrate research-based practices into your parent-engagement initiatives? One step is to share quality research with your staff, your school’s PTA/PTO, and perhaps with parents. Discussions about best practices have the potential to inform and inspire!